Six ways you can be kind and live longer

Call me a little self-serving, but I enjoy dispensing kindness, partly because it makes me feel good. And you can’t beat the price; it’s often absolutely free.

Kindness is recognized in many forms. Some of it is overt, like volunteering at a shelter or rescuing someone from calamity. Some of it is so subtle that it’s barely detectible, like a quick hug, smiling to a stranger, or letting someone have your place in line. Yet kindness in all its forms can be powerful potions with multiple side effects.

A well-placed wisecrack

At the checkout counter, where the clerk may look pooped after a day of scanning a gazillion bar codes, I frequently offer a gentle wise crack that almost always elicits a smile on their face. My silly quips hopefully make the clerk feel more appreciated, which, in turn, triggers the auto-smile function on my face. I get a quick reward with very little effort. Self-serving? OK, guilty as charged.

Maya Angelou set the stage for kindness, saying, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Two silver dollars

Teacher and author Ken Wert wrote an inspiring tale for the blog about two boys walking along a rural road who noticed a man toiling in the fields of his farm. His good clothes were laid off to the side.

The younger boy said to his friend, “Let’s hide his shoes so the man can’t find them. His expression will be priceless.”

After a moment, the older boy said, “The man looks poor. See his clothes? Instead, let’s tuck a silver dollar in each of his shoes and then we’ll hide in these bushes and see how he reacts.”

Both agreed to the kinder plan. When the farmer came in from the field, tired and worn, he pulled on one shoe, immediately feeling the money under his foot. Confused by this remarkable event, he slid his other shoe on and felt the second silver dollar.

Thinking he was alone, he dropped to his knees and offered a prayer that the boys could easily hear from their hiding place. They heard the poor farmer cry tears of relief and gratitude, thinking of his ill wife and sons, who were in need of food.

The boys retreated from their hiding place and headed home, feeling good about their act of kindness in helping a poor farmer in dire straits.

Kindness test

In his book, “The Hidden Power of Kindness,” the Rev. Lawrence Lovasik — renowned for his missionary work in America’s coal and steel regions — offered a kindness test for self-evaluation. You can take the test by answering these sample questions with “usually,” “sometimes” or “rarely.”

Do you listen patiently when someone launches for the fifth time into the same tired old story or the same stale jokes?

When people begin to gossip, do you make strenuous efforts to change the subject quickly?

Do you try to suppress those sarcastic remarks that leap into your mind?

Are you as polite to the members of your own family as you are to strangers?

Do you make efforts to be reconciled with persons who have wronged you?

Give yourself two points if you answer “usually,” one point for “sometimes” and zero if you answered “rarely.” How did you do out of a possible 10?

Healthy kindness

There are endless studies which endorse kindness for its health benefits. Random acts of kindness may not necessarily cure everything that ails you; but they certainly have some healthy side effects.

Consider comedian/humanitarian Bob Hope who aptly noted, “If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” He might just as well have been talking about legendary miser Ebenezer Scrooge, a selfish old grouch who eventually caught the spirit of giving. Then, as the story goes, “a merrier man has never been seen.”

Helper’s high

In today’s scientific jargon, through his generosity, Scrooge developed what is now commonly called “helper’s high.” Researchers studying this came up with some rather remarkable results, showing positive effects on the body.

Acts of kindness, we’re told, generate the kind of emotional warmth that produces a hormone in your brain called oxytocin. And oxytocin gets scientific credit for protecting the heart by lowering blood pressure. If that’s not enough encouragement for showing your kinder side, oxytocin generated by kindness also gets high marks for slowing the aging process, helping us live longer and enjoying better relationships.

There you have it, plenty of reasons to be nice. Look at all of the rewards you get.

Go ahead, be ‘self-serving’

So how does this story end? It’s up to you.

Consider that making the world a better place through your kindness is an opportunity not a burden. Kindness can be contagious. And it only takes one act of kindness to change the world, if only in a tiny way.

Helen Keller — an American author, activist and lecturer who became the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree – said, “I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Where are the opportunities for kindness in a world that is self-absorbed with the internet? Where are the missed opportunities for kindness in a starkly-divided society where we ignore our neighbors? You know the answers.

Go ahead, be self-serving and reward yourself with a little kindness. It can be addictive. And it can make a world of difference.


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